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Miami 2022: QRTR brings her psychedelic club sound to South Beach

On her new album, ‘infina ad nausea’, Brooklyn's QRTR blends multi-layered melodies with club-ready beats, from house and techno to UKG and jungle. Ahead of her set at DJ Mag's Miami Pool Party this week, she chats to Ben Murphy about her distinctively trippy sound, her famous feline friend, ambientkitty, and the busy festival season ahead of her

“I feel very comfortable drawing from a lot of different influences, and don’t feel like I need to box myself into something necessarily,” says Meagan Rodriguez, aka QRTR, describing the wide-ranging inspirations for her remarkable second album ‘infina ad nausea’. “I pull from all over the place, and from different eras of electronic music.”

On the record, released on LA’s Dome Of Doom label last year but due for a luxurious vinyl release this spring, QRTR matches emotive and multi-layered melodies with club-ready beats. Tapping into everything from deep house to mystical IDM atmospheres, touches of UK garage, full-pelt jungle and psychotropic techno, on ‘infina ad nausea’, the Brooklyn-based artist distils the best elements of electronic music into a potent mix all her own. Her distinctive style has come to the attention of Sasha, who released her exclusive track ‘Forest Sprint’ on his ‘LUZoSCURA’ compilation, while QRTR has also made DJ mixes for Rinse France, BBC Radio 6Music, XLR8R and many more, showcasing the kaleidoscopic taste and skilful blends evident across her second album.

QRTR grew up as a musically obsessed kid in Massachusetts. At around 11 years old, her dad bought her a Sony computer with the DAW Acid Pro pre-installed. She tried her hand at music making (“I made totally crazy stuff!” she says), and when she got older, continued to create electronic sounds as a hobby on Garageband. But a musical epiphany soon made her take it more seriously. “It wasn’t until I went to my first music festival in 2014 that I had my first sunrise rave type of experience, when I realised I wanted to start my own electronic music project,” QRTR says. “Within six months of that, I had purchased a little Pioneer controller and downloaded Ableton, and just started tinkering.”

Moving to New York City to study film at NYU would further impact upon the hypnotic soundscapes she’s since honed to a fine art. “All of that working with sound design and editing video definitely informs my more emotional, cinematic approach to dance music,” she says.

While her debut album ‘Drenched’, released in March 2020, announced her as a major new talent, it was also somewhat stymied by the arrival of the pandemic. During the uncertainty and anxiety of this time, in which most people were confined to their homes, QRTR endeavoured to make more music, finding the strange stasis and sense of living life in a loop an inspiration. The title of her second record ‘infina ad nausea’ relates to the notion of a spiral — but also that idea of being stuck in a repeating time arc. 

“I felt like my life had so many full circle moments that it was starting to feel like I needed to explain it in some way,” QRTR says. “It’s also this idea of living in a loop, and quarantine was a big part of that, feeling like every day was the same day just slightly different. That feeling in your head that this will never end, even though you know it will. It was just taking that idea and trying to put it into a story or sonic world.”

The album brilliantly balances club grit with more contemplative aspects. ‘Fractals’, also a single, has a psychotropic synth sequence at its heart, driven kinetically forward by a pummelling techno beat. It has the masterful blend of trippy melodies and danceability manifested in the tracks of artists like Avalon Emerson. 

“I have been trying to venture more into that trippy space with my music,” says QRTR, “while keeping the melodic components, because I feel that’s very integral to what I’ve been doing in my productions. I played an outdoor event before the album release, and I was trying to play as many tracks from the album to see which ones were really resonating with people. With ‘Fractals’, everyone just lost it, and I was like, ‘That has to be the single’.”

‘With You’ has a broken rhythm and an addictive, moody bassline, while its sung vocal from artemis orion hooks you in from the start. ‘Want Me 2’ has a lush gated synth melody, bittersweet sample and a propulsive house groove, and ‘Ritual’, featuring CSLTY, contrasts a mercurial IDM synth figure with speedy junglist Amen breaks. That counterpoint of melodic flow and intense rhythm, QRTR says, is something she seeks out in what she dances to, and makes herself. “I really like that contradiction, and for me, I like moments when I’m in a club and I’m starting to feel emotional, and I’m encouraged to dance. Those are some of the most special moments, so I try to bring that into all my productions as well.”

One element that seems to thread throughout ‘infina ad nausea’ is the influence of UK sounds. On tracks such as ‘Like That’, ‘Rewind’ and ‘Lucid (feat. Braille)’, there are residues of two-step, breakbeat and rave. “I was finding myself becoming a fan of a lot of artists from the UK,” QRTR says. “I started to include a lot of breaks in my DJ sets, and I wanted to take that and bring that into the second album.”

A key collaborator on the record is ambientkitty, QRTR’s cat. Sampled purrs and meows feature on opening track ‘The Outer Edge’ — something QRTR felt compelled to include, after ambientkitty became a viral social media phenomenon.

“My cat went viral in 2019,” she says. “I was writing my first album, I had left a session open, and had created this really ambient-sounding pad. The track was still on, and she happened to come and sit on my Ableton Push controller. I was in the kitchen and heard it, and thought, ‘That sounds amazing! Where is that coming from?’ I noticed it was just her squatting down on the MIDI pads. I took a video, thinking, ‘People online are gonna love this’, and it went viral. I thought I would try to milk the situation a bit, and thought ambientkitty could be a fun little side-project. I created an extended version of the audio and video that went viral, and put it on my first album. I wanted to do a little nod and bring her back for the second album as well.”

The record will soon reach a new audience in its deluxe vinyl format, with the creative direction of the artwork overseen by QRTR’s partner Bren Lyn Haragan. “I’m very much more of an audio person, she’s more a visual person,” QRTR says, “so it was great to have her take my sonic world and manifest it into something visual and physical.”

There are also a number of remixes of album tracks being released, with names like Daedalus, VNSSA and Breaka offering interpretations. “For me the remixes have been so, so fun, to see the way people have reimagined my music, what they decide to keep and take out, transform. Daedalus’s remix is absolutely bonkers, a perfect example of someone turning something inside out completely.”

Looking forward, QRTR has a host of festival DJ sets in the diary, including Dirtybird CampINN, Electric Forest and more. Having first discovered dance music through festivals, she can’t wait to give someone else that musical epiphany moment. “I feel like you’re so close to changing someone’s life or giving them a memory they’ll never forget, and that’s such a special thing to be able to share with a bunch of strangers.”

QRTR also plays the DJ Mag Pool Party in Miami this coming month, another full circle moment. “I had just released my debut album and I had an offer to play my first Miami Music Week gig in 2020, and then it all came crashing down because of Covid,” she says. “I feel like I had a chance to have a re-do with the second album, for it to be released not during total crisis mode, and to be able to perform. Being able to go to Miami Music Week and do this DJ Mag Pool Party, I’m very excited! And I can get out of the freezing cold of New York.”

Ben Murphy is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @benlukemurphy

Read more about the DJ Mag Miami Pool Party here